Ultra orthodox Jews wear shtreimels to a traditional religious wedding ceremony in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Throughout history there has been a strong correlation between a society’s health and success and the extent to which Jews are able to thrive in that community. Countries in which Jews have felt comfortable have tended to enjoy strong, healthy societies. In contrast, countries in which Jews have been persecuted or discriminated against have tended to be sclerotic and failed.
The decline of Spain’s dominance in the world was precipitated by its expulsion of the Jews; that Nazi Germany lost the race to develop an atomic bomb was due in part to the brain drain of talented Jews such as Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls; the Soviet Union’s downfall was in large part the result of the oppressive policies from which Jews suffered disproportionately.
Today, as we witness a new wave of anti-Semitism – particularly in Europe but also elsewhere – there seems to be a similar pattern. Countries that are more receptive to Jews and provide Diaspora communities with more amenable environments tend to be healthier while those in which violence against Jews is more rampant are afflicted with a wide range of problems – economic, social and political.
A popular though not completely reliable method of measuring the depth and intensity of hatred against Jews has been to document via hidden camera kippa-wearing men wandering around “problematic” neighborhoods in large European cities. (Normally, these are neighborhoods with large Muslim populations.) In January, a reporter wearing a kippa walked around a heavily Muslim neighborhood of Malmo, Sweden, where he was assaulted and cursed at.
In February, Zvika Klein, an Orthodox Jewish journalist for Makor Rishon, walked through the streets of Paris; he was taunted and intimidated, as shown in a video recording.
And the British tabloid the Daily Mail deployed a whole team of kippa-wearing reporters to several European countries. The worst incidents were on the streets of Manchester and Bradford, two mid-size British cities with sizable Muslim populations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said “there are no excuses for the shocking anti-Semitism revealed in this report,” and Labor Party leader Ed Miliband said, “We need to renew our vigilance and ensure every family of every faith can be secure in our country.”
The responses by Cameron and Miliband were commendable.
Similarly, French Prime Minister Valls’s has taken a strong stand on anti-Semitic violence in his country.
Just last month, after about 300 Jewish graves were desecrated in eastern France, Valls told French Jews that “France is wounded with you and France does not want you to leave.”
But the sad reality is that expressions of violent anti-Semitism in France, Britain and other European countries are inseparable from deep underlying societal problems. Whatever the reason, too many immigrants from Muslim countries have failed to integrate into European society. Low birth rates among Europeans reflect a breakdown in the family as an institution and a fundamental pessimism about the future. Exacerbating the situation are the endemic economic woes of most European countries.
In times of crisis, Jews tend to be the first to be singled out for discrimination or censure. A variety of justifications are regularly given: Jews are seen as greedy or materialistic when they succeed in business; they are blamed for the perceived crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians; their religious practices (kosher slaughter, circumcision) come under attack.
Whatever the stated reason, the existence of strong anti-Semitic sentiments in a particular country reveals more about that country than it does about the Jews against whom violence is directed.
In contrast, countries in which there is a relatively low level of anti-Semitism – such as the US – are freer and healthier.
As a friend of Holocaust survivor and historian Victor Klemperer put it to him in a very dark time, the Jews have been both condemned and privileged to be “seismic people” hyper sensitive to the vicissitudes of the human condition. This is the Jewish people’s lot, it can be no other way.